How does a lawyer for whistleblowers help and protect you? We’ll show you how to fight back and stay safe.
Under the law, a lawyer for whistleblowers is meant to ensure people feel safe coming forward when bad people are doing bad things. In certain situations, you can file complaints anonymously to help prevent retaliation. In others, you may be able to benefit financially from uncovering fraud and other wrongdoings.
Generally speaking, laws protect whistleblowers from the following:
- Threats or harassment
- Demotion or termination
- Industry blacklisting
- Failure to promote
Your employer’s policies will have the most significant impact on the responses you should expect for filing a complaint with the company or against the company through an outside agency. Your HR department should have an updated employee handbook, a document you should be able to request without raising any red flags.
The protections provided through U.S. and state law depend primarily on your situation. Who is your employer? What are you reporting? Every whistleblower doesn’t have the same protection.
Understanding the Whistleblower Protection Act
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 provide federal employees with the right to disclose information on wrongdoing. Other federal and state laws encourage reporting of wrongdoing while offering measures to keep informants safe.
In certain situations, enforcing privacy rules is essential to protecting whistleblowers. For instance, laws prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from revealing the identity of informants or information that could lead to their identification. People’s lives are in danger when millions of dollars are at stake. A lawyer can help you limit your risks of exposure.
Unfortunately, the courts responsible for claims sometimes restrict the way they interpret the laws, placing whistleblowers at risk. If you have to expose classified information, for example, it’s important to discuss the ramifications with a legal consultant. Espionage charges are no laughing matter. It’s essential to protect the public. But laws are in place to make that possible while avoiding jail or other negative repercussions.
Protected Actions and Liabilities
It’s important to distinguish between whistleblowing activities and other actions an employee takes. Whistleblowing will not protect you from the consequences of your behavior. Mark Whitacre is a good example.
As an executive for an agricultural corporation, Archer Daniels Midland, Whitacre outed the company for price-fixing while at the same time embezzling more than $9 million. Being a whistleblower didn’t stop him from going to jail for his crimes.
Likewise, if you engage in behavior that breaks codes of conduct at your employment in the wake of a complaint, you might face termination, demotion and other repercussions. The business just can’t target you unfairly because you brought problems to light.
Whistleblowers and the False Claims Act
Some of the laws not only provide protection from harm but offer incentives for exposing illegal activities. The False Claims Act (FCA) affords individuals the right to file qui tam lawsuits, meaning they can sue others on behalf of the United States government. If a court decides the defendant is guilty of defrauding the government, the whistleblower receives 15 – 30 percent of the judgment. The law has successfully reduced corruption in a number of industries.
These days, courts wield the FCA to stop Medicaid and Medicare fraud, but it’s useful in other applications as well. Last year, the law helped reclaim more than $3 billion in government funds.
In one case, when a senior control analyst for medical device-manufacturer Alere came forward regarding the product’s unreliability, she received $5.4 million as part of a settlement agreement.
Mylan Inc., the manufacturer of the EpiPen, came under fire for raising their products price by over 400 percent. At the same time, the company was misclassifying the product as a generic to qualify for a lower 13 percent Medicaid rebate rate. The $465 million went back into federal and state healthcare programs.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Justice might have become too critical of billing policies in recent years. In November 2017, a court overturned a landmark billion-dollar judgment against rehabilitation center HCRManor after the company’s legal team successfully argued against the DOJ’s discover methods and star witness.
It’s important to discuss your risks and obligations in situations where you file a case but wind up losing in the end. You also want to ask about the appropriate method for making a claim. Until recently, for instance, if whistleblowers turned information over to an agency before informing the SEC of a problem, they were ineligible for qui tam representation.
New “safe harbor” rules recently allowed an informant to collect a $2.2 million in a case where before the government could have claimed every penny. There are many ways to protect your rights by using industry rules and legislation.
Are you considering blowing the whistle? Make sure you have the legal guidance you need before you move forward. Click to find out more about protection for whistleblowers by contacting Bothwell Law Group online.